Why Metrology is the Key to Intel's "Angstrom Era"

By Joe Cestari

GM, Mass Spectrometry


August 06, 2021


Why Metrology is the Key to Intel's "Angstrom Era"

Forget measuring processes in nanometers – Intel has just said that we’re moving into the "angstrom era." It’s not just about smaller geometries (one angstrom, 1Å, of course equals 0.1nm), with the company announcing multiple new technologies as it revealed its roadmap to 2025 and beyond.

In this new era, we’ll see devices and materials now processed at the atomic level – but what does this really mean?

Intel has specified a new process node that it calls "Intel 20A," which is based upon the critical dimension limits of 20Å. For comparison, a silicon atom measures 1.92Å. That means that in the 20A process, a 20Å layer might contain as few as 11 silicon atoms. It's clear that Intel's claim to be working "at the atomic level" is not mere hype or exaggeration – it's genuinely going to represent an industry advancement.

Intel has announced two new technologies that it says will enable the angstrom era: RibbonFET, its first new transistor architecture for a decade, and PowerVia, which it describes as an "industry-first" new backside power delivery method.

As part of Intel’s new 20A process node, RibbonFET is the company’s implementation of a gate-all-around transistor. This technology offers faster transistor switching speeds while still achieving the same drive current as multiple fins, but with a smaller footprint. 

PowerVia optimizes signal transmission by removing the need for power routing on the front side of the wafer and by providing optimized signal routing while also reducing droop and noise.

It’s a bold vision, but manufacturing complex 3D structures in the angstrom era will be extremely difficult. It will depend heavily on subtractive and additive atomic level processes – atomic level deposition (ALD) and atomic level etch (ALE).  

To achieve successful and consistent ALD and ALE, advanced metrology is essential. This is precisely why we have developed Atonarp's Aston platform, which provides real-time, in-situ metrology capabilities for fabs. The Aston system is ideally suited for observing and controlling ALE and ALD processes and achieving the required level of advanced manufacturing precision.

Intel says it expects 20A to ramp up in 2024, which is right around the corner in the complex world of semiconductor fabs. We're excited to see how the angstrom era unfolds – and to ensure advanced metrology plays a central role in helping transform that vision into reality.

Joe has more than 30 years of high technology industry experience including semiconductor device design, process and equipment engineering, advanced technology development, business development, supply chain management and facility construction. He has held executive level positions at Kinetics, Total Facility Solutions, and ILS Technology as well as management/technical positions at Applied Materials and AMD.

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